ALLIANZ NATIONAL HURLING LEAGUE DIV 1A
WATERFORD v DUBLIN
(Fraher Field, Tomorrow, 2.30)
AFTER four matches of this year's reduced spring, the only thing we can say for certain looking further into Dublin's 2012 is that they won't win the League.
After that, it's all possible.
All possible, but with lots of it relying on factors outside their control, namely the timely return to fitness and form of their big defensive guns (Brady, Kelly, Hiney) along with Conal Keaney and the cessation of this ridiculously unlucky penchant for picking up medium-term knocks.
After three tough, relatively fruitless weekends, it's no wonder, but there remains something tangible to play for in Dungarvan tomorrow, even if Dublin are already consigned to a relegation play-off in two weeks' time.
They wouldn't admit it publicly, but tomorrow's opponents Waterford are a more attractive opposition for that unwanted 'final' than the alternative, Galway, and so Dublin are unlikely to finish the regulation stages of the League on a whimper.
Waterford's unexpected victory in Salthill last week owed as much to their own performance as it did a bad one from Galway.
Whatever the effect Ken McGrath and the newly-appointed Seán Cullinane are having on the managerial front, it's quite obvious the galvanising qualities brought by John Mullane and Eoin Kelly, neither of whom featured in Waterford's first three League defeats.
Mullane was, by wide consensus, the Man of the Match last weekend and his two points from play were merely grace notes on an otherwide dervish-like performance whilst Kelly's introduction added plenty of directness to the Déise attack. What was notable though, was the commitment, desire and strength demonstrated by Michael Ryan's men in breaking-ball battles and in the 50/50 stakes, the winner was more often than not in a white-and-blue jersey.
For their part, Dublin have to view this as a game like any other and the point belatedly taken in Croke Park against Tipperary should have nutritional benefits to the group after two gut-wrenching defeats.
David Treacy's renaissance looks to be gathering pace, exemplified by the 1-2 he scored with his first three touches after coming on at half-time.
Paul Schutte -- the latest in a line of Dublin full-backs to limp out of a match -- had a brilliant game, as did Niall Corcoran alongside, whose calmness and ability to read the play bought him plenty of time and space to pick out men rather than merely resorting to panicky clearances.
And quite obviously, Danny Sutcliffe is the big 'find' of this year's League for Anthony Daly. His pedigree was never questioned but the ease with which he has transferred his talents to the biggest stage will be the most encouraging thing and with ball-winning now the primary currency for half-forwards, his value to the team is quickly soaring.
A chink in Dublin's armour last week was the number of missed frees which unraveled their bid for a win and even if Paul Ryan's expected return in a couple of weeks should sort out that problem, it's an area where Daly needs to find an adequate alternative should the 'Boden man miss the relegation play-off.
The pressure is all on Waterford here and given that even a win might not be enough to keep them out of the bottom two, a tight game would rise the levels of angst even further amongst their players and supporters.
Dublin, meanwhile, can play with something resembling freedom and if the attitude is right, they can take the points.
ODDS: Waterford 7/5, Draw 10/1, Dublin 4/6